'Trials & Tribulation' - Judges reflect on challenges as practitioners


– Photo by John Meiu

Four federal judges joined forces at Wayne State University Law School on Thursday, March 24, for a program titled, “Lessons Learned from Trials & Tribulation.” U.S. District Judges (left to right) George Steeh, Sean Cox, Laurie Michelson, and Arthur Tarnow took part in the event, co-hosted by the Michigan Employment Lawyers Association and the Oakland County Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Section. The jurists discussed “challenges faced, mishaps witnessed, and recommended practices” during the program in the Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium at Wayne Law.

By Lee Dryden
The Daily Record Newswire

DETROIT - While providing advice to lawyers at a recent panel discussion, federal judges recalled some of their low moments as practitioners.

The March 24 event at Wayne State University Law School, featuring judges from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, was aptly titled "Lessons Learned from Trials & Tribulations."

Judge Laurie J. Michelson spoke of a copyright infringement lawsuit involving the 1996 film "Jingle All the Way" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad as rival dads frantically trying to find a popular toy on Christmas Eve. A Detroit teacher alleged he wasn't given credit for the script.

Michelson was on the team representing the 20th Century Fox studio.

"It was a case I devoted myself to for many, many years," she said.

So it wasn't a good day when the jury issued a $19 million verdict against Fox in 2001. The loss was compounded by a photo in People magazine of the plaintiff sitting on the courthouse steps ripping a "Jingle All the Way" movie poster in half, Michelson said.

But redemption came three years later when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the verdict. The first line of the opinion said the case never should have went to a jury, Michelson said.

"It was probably my worst day as a lawyer and then a few years later became one of my better days as a lawyer," she said. "The client kept us for the appeal and that doesn't always happen."

Michelson said it was a contentious case and she learned a lot about dealing with opposing counsel.

Judge Sean F. Cox spoke of his frustrations when he represented the family of a 21-year-old woman in a medical malpractice case.

The woman went to the hospital when she had a bad cold and breathing problems. The emergency room doctor sent her home and she died a couple of days later of aggressive pneumonia.

Cox sued the hospital on the family's behalf and ordered the X-rays. Hospital officials said they couldn't find them.

Cox said he didn't get any assistance from the trial judge. "I was getting hometowned big-time," he said.

He settled the case anyway for a significant amount, but not as much as he thought it was worth.

He later learned the X-rays were destroyed. "Certainly, justice wasn't served," he said.

Cox unsuccessfully tried to reopen the lawsuit.

"That was the worst case I had and one of the worst experiences I had with judges and the judicial process as a lawyer," he said.

The event was co-hosted by the Michigan Employment Lawyers Association and the Oakland County Bar Association's Labor and Employment Law Committee. It was sponsored by the State Bar of Michigan's Labor and Employment Law Section; Gasiorek, Morgan, Greco, McCauley, & Kotzian PC; and Sue Ellen Eisenberg & Associates PC.